|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
With the success of role-playing games like Final Fantasy VII and Wild Arms, a glut of RPGs has hit the market in past few months. Konami, known for their variety of past hits, can now also be known for the variety of quality in their RPGs: from the great Vandal Hearts, to the mediocre Suikoden, and now the lackluster Azure Dreams, for the Sony PlayStation.
In the middle of a desert exists the town of Monsbaiya. Its commerce is based on the trading of monster eggs and monsters found in the nearby Monster Tower. The hero of our story is the son of the world's late, great adventurer; now, on his fifteenth birthday, he's ready to explore the tower to support his struggling family.
Azure's gimmick: the layout of the Tower's 100 levels change with every play, and the hero always starts with the same basic strength levels. While this idea worked great on computer classics like Rogue and Hack, here it makes for dull gameplay. The levels have no imaginative design, quickly deteriorating Azure into nothing more than gauntlets of monsters.
The control is sloppy. Basic functions like movement and fighting are easy, but navigating through various layers of menus can be a hassle. Minor functions such as picking up and throwing items require illogical combinations of button presses.
A good stereo system is best for this game — drowning out the tinny, whistling music is essential. Sound effects occur on an as-needed basis.
The graphics are colorful but unspectacular. The camera can be moved, but usually none of the various points or heights will provide an optimal display. Sprites have only the most basic frames of animation; spells are cast without fanfare.
Although the hero gains no experience from his forays, if he finds an escape item without dying, he'll retain found items and gold. Familiars – magical creatures that aid the hero in his quest — keep their experience, slowly growing in strength, and may be merged with other familiars in a Tamagotchi-like fashion.
Each expedition into the Tower brings the hero closer to the top, where lies his ultimate goal. But until then, every quest must begin anew, sending him climbing through a hundred dull, similar floors. Progress is slow and with few incentives, since most growth is lost after a gaming session, regardless of escape or death.
Azure Dreams is a challenging game that's new every time it's played: sounds good, but it's not. There are so many other role-playing games out there, it's hard to imagine spending the time necessary to scale the many obstacles of the Monster Tower. This monstrosity is worth overlooking.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 17-Aug-98